Living In: "Therefore"
Topic: Dudley's Monthly Message Passage: Romans 12
LIVING IN: “THEREFORE”
It is significant that the first 11 chapters of the book of Romans do not give many instructions. In fact, there are basically two imperatives in that section. One is in chapter six when Paul tells us to reckon ourselves dead to sin, alive to God, and yield our members as instruments of righteousness instead of wickedness. The other is in chapter 11 where Gentile believers are warned not to be arrogant toward Jewish prospects. But, chapter 12 opens the floodgates to the instructions regarding the kind of life the gospel produces:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12: 1-2 (ESV)
The mercies of God as described in the previous chapters are the foundation and motivation for a new kind of living. Paul explains how God has brought to earth an alternate kingdom. It is radically different from all the kingdoms known to humans throughout history. It is guaranteed to succeed, but it will be persecuted by those who refuse to enter it. Christians are the people of that kingdom. We are equipped to live as humans were first intended to live; in submission to God and partners with him in subduing the earth.
We worship by everything we do every day. We are done with bringing sacrifices to the altar. One sacrifice has ended them all. We don’t divide our lives into secular and spiritual. We are the active body of Christ on earth, displaying his life and work in our respective assignments. Everything that needed to be done has been done to reconcile us to God. We can rest in his finished work of redemption. Now, we get to participate in the new life of the new kingdom. We have put aside the old mindset of living for our own destinies, working for our own security, and worrying about our own significance. We live for one reason alone: to fulfill the mission of the one who lived and died for us. His message is our message. His friends are our friends. His past is our past. His future is our future. His status with the Father is ours as well.
Being truly human is scary in its liberty. We have been accustomed to either hating our humanity or exalting it above God. Some spend their entire lives suppressing anything they might consider part of their flesh. They easily slip into the dualism of physical versus spiritual. They try to deny their humanity and reach for a super-spirituality reserved only for heaven. Others try to exalt humanity beyond its design. We obsess with superhumans like the popular superheroes of Marvel Comics. We somehow know that we are made for more than the meager life we eke out in our mundane church experiences. We want more but can’t get it. Whole movements have been built around a search for holiness, with the belief that if we can just get holy enough, we can coax God into entering our dilemma. But holiness is not a goal to attain. It is a reality to adjust to. God has made us holy by his own actions. He set us apart as his. We are different from all others. Not better than. Different. We didn’t gain it. We are chosen. We now can live it out.
The culture around us has a conforming or molding effect. It seeks to bring our thoughts and behavior in line with consensus. When the distinctive difference is lost, the church loses its ability to affect the culture. People lose motivation to participate in public worship or Christian service. We adopt the metrics of the culture to determine our success, and the empty symbols of success become our goals. We, like the culture, want to appear to be prosperous and fruitful. This breeds hypocrisy and shallowness. For example, there is a reason that liberal Protestant and Catholic churches are losing people. If the church and the culture are the same, why bother? The kingdom within us, however, has a transforming effect. We are indwelt by the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead. We share in the resurrection life of Christ. We are clay vessels that contain the love of God, which cannot be defeated. The metrics of our success are measured by transcendent values. Only at the end of the story will we fully know.
A picture of transformation is that of the caterpillar that is transformed into a butterfly. Even a close examination of the caterpillar would not suggest that a butterfly was hiding in there. But when the time comes, the beautiful butterfly emerges. God has planted his own seed in our hearts. It will produce. We cooperate with the transformation process as we align our own stories with the big story that climaxes with Jesus. We discover that he came into our story, so he could include us in his story. The renewal of the mind is what happens when we embrace the story of redemption through Jesus Christ. We can’t do it by self-will. We hear the story, believe the story, and it begins to change the way we think. That results in changing the way we feel and act. If we try to incorporate all the imperatives in Romans 12 before we submit to the story of God’s grace through Jesus, it will produce moralism which exalts man’s achievements rather than God’s mercy. Instead of becoming more human, we become more beastly. Remember that the prophetic dreams and apocalyptic visions of scripture represent the power-hungry individuals of history as beasts. The beasts come out of the sea or mountains and devour the land. But when the Son of man comes on the scene, God grants him the authority to establish the everlasting kingdom. (See Daniel 7.) Jesus’ favorite designation for himself was Son of man. He was a human the way a human should be. God has granted to a human the authority to rule on earth. Jesus is that Son of man, and we are in him.
Right thinking (the story determines everything) brings about right attitudes and behaviors. When we know what is true of us, we know what we can do. God is not embarrassed to command us to love, forgive, be generous, refuse vengeance, give preference, and sacrifice. He knows what kind of life we have been given. He has established the alternative kingdom with us as his subjects. By faith, we demonstrate the superior quality of life is common to those living in the power of the resurrection.
It is evident in this extended text that the right way to view ourselves is as a member of the body of Christ. We are gifted with the perspective, power, and faith to fulfill our assignment in conjunction with other members. We cannot hold on to our individualistic identity we learned from our culture. We are interdependent members of Christ’s body. We live for the body’s success. We lose ourselves in submission to the mission of the whole body. We expect great things from God and reflect the glory to him. We don’t have the luxury of rejecting or neglecting the other members of the body. That would be counterproductive to our purpose.
We live radically different because a radical invasion has occurred in the appearance of Jesus. The good news is that he has come, and everything is measured by him, and because of him everything changes. We live in the constant state of “Therefore.”